This days hiking destination was to be Moonshine Falls, a 40 foot drop from an overhanging cliff with a lot of room behind the falls. I have wanted to visit here for some time now. I knew the waterfall wasn’t particularly big or on a large flow stream. It is one of the Carolina Mountain Club’s WC100’s waterfalls that I have yet to visit. It also has a very unique feature. Behind the waterfall on the left side are the rusty remains of some 55 gallon drums and some tubing that was once part of a moonshine operation many years back. Hence the name…Moonshine Falls. It is not often a pile of trash at a waterfall is something one would want to see, but this one gives this waterfall some added character, and leaves one to wonder what it must have been like. I searched for some history on the web, but couldn’t come up with much. Read more
New Years Day in the Tar Heel State was a washout this year. I have been participating in the annual “Get out and Hike” programs our state promotes each year, but not when it was raining like we had this year. So, my New Year Hike got pushed back a tad, to Saturday 1/5/13. This time of year, I usually head down to the southwest corner of NC, where the temps are a tad more moderate than the northern mountains. So why I chose to drive straight north to Northern Virginia on this day is totally beyond my realm of explanation. The waterfall in mind was Cascade Falls, a 69 foot waterfall that I had seen in a brochure last year that was absolutely gorgeous. The selling points for this being the destination were distance, and weather. The trusty iphone maps had it being a 2 hour trip, and the forecast was for sunny and 45…… In the mountains in winter, this is a nice day, trust me! Finding this location was pretty easy, coming from the south, I used I-77 to Wytheville, Va. I then headed north on I-81 for about 27 miles, got off on Hwy 100 north for another 20 miles, then took a right, or east on US 460 for 6 miles into Pembroke, Va. Once in Pembroke, look for Cascade Dr, hang a left and follow it for 3 miles or so until it dead ends at the parking area. There is a $3 parking/usage fee, it is totally worth it. The 3 mile drive up Cascade Dr, will give you a prequel to the rushing waters of Little Stoney Creek, and the treat you are soon in for.
And so the hike begins. From the bottom, you are looking at a 2 mile hike from the trailhead, to the waterfall, with a 700 foot elevation gain. That is nothing terribly dramatic, but it is enough to let you know that some uphill climbing is in your near future. Just a short ways in, you will come to a very nice wooden log bridge that crosses Little Stoney Creek, which is a rather large creek, no rock hopping to get across this thing. It is at this bridge where you have a decision to make; the trail splits here and you have 2 choices to reach the falls, I love that. The first is to keep going straight, along what is called the upper trail. It sticks to a rather wide trail, going way above the creek in places. Or, you can cross the bridge and take the lower trail, which hugs the banks of Little Stoney, for a much more scenic view. I chose obviously to take the lower route, because I am all about scenery. Once over the bridge, you will find a big, rusted metal piece of machinery under a shelter. I was thinking…what the hell is that and why is it here? As it turns out, this place was heavily logged in the 1920’s, and this boiler power necessary to run a large sawmill at the time. So it is a piece of history. The creek here along this lower path was just beautiful, with lots of rushing, clear, cold water, and huge boulders everywhere. It reminded me of the trail closer to home in South Mountains State Park that leads to High Shoals Falls.
As I approached the halfway point of the hike, things began to change. There were large ice formations in parts of the creek already, but I began seeing snow on the ground. I thought this was a nice touch to help make this winter hike seem more…..wintery! Except, it kept getting more and more wintery! By the time I reached the second bridge, the steps, rocks and other parts of the path were beginning to get slippery and ice covered. The sign even warned me of this….at this point, I should…have switched to the Upper Trail for the safer, faster way to my destination. I did not, I stayed on the lower trail, while it got worse and worse. By the time I reached the falls, I would dare say that the lower trail was down right treacherous!!! I slipped several times, never falling. I came accross an older couple on this lower trail, and was thinking, “what the hell are they doing out here?”. They told me they do this all the time, had nice trekking poles and ice attachments on their shoes. The sweet lady told me I better get on the upper trail before I get hurt. Luckily, we all made it to the waterfall!!
Then, just like that, there we were….Cascade Falls. The trail seemed to hide the roar of the falls. It was quite a beautiful surprise for me. I am not quite sure what I was expecting, but the largeness of the scenery, huge pool, big waterfall, and 200 foot icicle lined cliffs on both sides just made for an outstanding waterfall moment. There were several, very well constructed viewing platforms here with plenty of room for lots of people to enjoy this waterfall. It was fairly crowded on a day in which the temps here at the top were just above freezing at best. I can only imagine the crowds that would be here on a hot summer day. I wanted to get close to the waterfall, but the upper deck was closed due to ice. I am thinking it was the huge 50 foot icicles hanging above, I saw one of them fall. I would not have wanted to be under that.
After spending a half hour up here, it was time to head back. There was no way, I was taking the lower trail back down that ice, so I opted for the upper trail. It was far less dramatic, and got me back quickly. I believe that is probably the best way to hike this all the time, take the lower trail up and the upper trail down. I did notice a few people trying to climb the hill to get from the the lower trail to the upper on my way back. It was that slick down there where the sunshine is limited. Once back, I had completed a nice 4 mile hike to what has to be one of Virginia’s finest waterfalls. I can’t wait to go back in warmer weather. Some closing shots from the trip down, showing the totally different ice-free landscape.
After visiting Laurel Ridge this morning, I decided to spend the afternoon exploring the northern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. My main goal was to see Cascade Falls, but I knew that would only take a short while. I went as far north as the Cumberland Knob, which is just south of the Virginia state line then turned back south and exited at US 421. As expected, the highlight of the drive had to be the Cascade Falls as it was by far the prettiest scene on this trip. The NC section of the Blue Ridge Parkway seems to be divided close to the 421 intersection. South of 421 seems to be the attractions that are 4000 feet and higher in elevation, while north seems to be the 4000 feet and lower, which seems to lead to less dramatic waterfalls and views in my opinion. With this said, it is still very beautiful up here, I would rather be exploring up here than working any day of the week.
Cumberland Knob is the northern most attraction in NC. It has the distinction of being the very first recreation area built on the BRP back in 1937. That being said, it is really nothing more than a very nice picnic area that will support many picnics and parties. There are some open fields for the kids to run and play in. After taking this in, I decided to take the short hike to the Cumberland Knob. It is a very short hike with only a short distance going up hill. Once there, all there is waiting for you a very old shelter with fireplace and a small open field. There were no views of any kind of here. I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed. There was the option of hiking back or continue on down into the Gully Creek Gorge, an additional 2 mile hike. Since I knew nothing about the Gully Creek Gorge, I decided to head back and work my way towards Cascade Falls. There is an overlook just down the road from Cumberland Knob that the name of something to do with Fox Hunting. It had an excellent view and even a good view of distant Pilot Mountain. It was far too hazy to get a picture of that on this day. There is also a short 250 foot trail leading to another view point that is even better, probably the best in this area.
Here above, is what awaits you on the Cumberland Knob
After Cumberland, the parkway winds and goes as it does for about 12 miles or so with not much to see, then it skirts the outside of Stone Mountain State Park. The only access to Stone Mountain State Park is down US 21 from the parkway and there are no signs saying that you are here or how to get inside. I think that this could be done better as Stone Mountain is an excellent state park and one of my favorite places to visit. It has some great hiking up the 600 foot dome, and a number of waterfalls including the 200 foot Stone Mountain Falls. Since the BRP runs along the edge of the park for a good number of miles, and provides several overlooks that show the rock dome below, I would think there would be some signs of how to get inside the park, maybe just an oversight….
Immediately as you exit Stone Mountain State Park, you will enter Doughton Park. This is an excellent area to spend a lot of time. There is the Brinegar Cabin, Bluff Mountain, a large trail system that includes a 20 mile loop that one could spend several days hiking. Down the mountains along the trails are other cabins, smaller waterfalls, and great chances to see wildlife. The Mountains to Sea Trail runs right through this area but stays mainly on the mountain tops. There is a Bluff Mountain Lodge, Bluff Mountain Coffee Shop and Restaurant and Gift Store available. They have all been closed now for 2 years but word is they re-open in 2013. I hope this is true as the best fried chicken the world is served at this restaurant. The Parkway has to make its way through a dramatic part of Bluff Mountain where there is a steep rock cliff to the one side and a steep fall off with a beautiful mountain lake way at the bottom. In the winter, the springs will freeze all over the rocks for an impressive view, sometimes even a small waterfall appears. All is dry in the hot summer months though.
After Doughton, The Northwest Trading Post will be available soon, which is a very unusual and nice Parkway store that has a lot of good to offer. Local products, art and tons of parkway memorabilia are offered here.
The last stop on my trip was EB Jeffress Park. It is about 5 miles from the US 421 intersection at mile marker 272. It is here that the 1/2 mile trail to Cascade Falls begins. The MST runs through here as well. After a short walk with self guided information signs about the plants, the trail begins to drop. It will cross the creek and continue to run along it. There will be an overlook soon, looking straight down it from the very top, a very cool view. The better view though is just down the path, down some steep rock steps that puts you looking up at the falls and down at the falls. This is where you really appreciate the beauty of Cascade Falls as you have great views up the falls and down the falls as it just seems to fall endlessly. The water level was very good on this day as some storms had gone through the night before. I could see this almost drying up in periods of drought though. I was very surprised by this waterfall and enjoyed it tremendously. It is definitely one of the top attractions on the northern NC sector of the BRP.